By Amanda Kuhnert
“It’s tough to get people to stay and see their work as a long-term profession,” said Ben Danowitz of Kestrel Contracting, a standing seam and copper roofing company based in Richmond, Vermont. “That’s been the loose end for a lot of trades, especially for a skilled trade like roofing.” But Danowitz and his business partner, Ian Fulton, are working to change this trend. “We’re trying to take back the trade and make it more of a profession, which I think will help attract more people,” he said.
After graduating from the University of Vermont, Danowitz and Fulton worked for various construction companies before founding Kestrel Contracting in 2018. This experience fueled their desire to create a company culture where employees feel respected and supported—and can envision a future.
Here’s what they’re doing to build a team that sticks around:
Including employees in the decision-making process
“We make sure, as much as possible, to include our employees in the total scope of work that needs to be accomplished,” Danowitz said. “We bring them into the planning and thinking phase.”
The partners make sure employees are paid fairly for travel time and gas and are transparent with prospective clients when including these costs in their project bids. “Those things can keep morale going,” Danowitz said. “It says, ‘They’re paying attention to me and my needs and not just crushing me in this steamroller of construction.’”
Along with quarterly reviews, the partners check in with their employees on a regular basis to make sure they have the equipment and tools they need.
Danowitz is a big believer in job perks, like showing up to the jobsite with pizza and drinks. “Bringing food to the job is an indicator that you care,” he said. “I would always want to work harder for people who did those kinds of things for me.”
Helping employees build their skills
Before bringing on new crew members, the partners are taking steps to improve the onboarding and training process. This winter they’re working on a video training series that will teach different facets of the job in bite-sized chunks. “In the future we’d like to standardize things as much as possible so that we can bring people into a more structured environment,” Danowitz said.
For more information: kestrelcontractingllc.com.
Danowitz and Fulton have been working with business advisor Steve Densham at the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) since first deciding to start their own company. “In a time when more and more services automate and you get lost in a torrent of statistics, Steve and the VTSBDC made me feel like I really mattered,” Danowitz said. “We could not have done such a good job as a startup without his help and commitment to being there when we needed him.” For more information: vtsbdc.org.
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